The Chehalis Tribe jointly owns and operates the Great Wolf Lodge Resort on its homelands in Grand Mound, Washington. Photo: Jeff Sandquist
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Bill to repeal old ban on distilleries in Indian Country gets first hearing

A bill that repeals a remnant of a more paternalistic era in federal Indian policy is getting its first airing on Capitol Hill.

The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs will take testimony on H.R.5317, the Repeal of Prohibition on Certain Alcohol Manufacturing on Indian Lands Act, on Thursday. Chairman Harry Pickernell, Sr. of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, whose leaders support the bill in hopes of establishing a distillery on their homelands, is on the witness list.

“The legislation would repeal a never used, antiquated law that is an obstacle to an economic development project on the Chehalis Reservation that would benefit the tribe and surrounding communities, create jobs, and provide training opportunities for tribal members,” Pickernell said when the bill was introduced last month. “The repeal will ensure that all aspects of the economic development project can commence and be completed as envisioned by the tribe.”

H.R.5317 has bipartisan support as it goes for its first hearing Six lawmakers -- three Republicans and three Democrats -- have signed on to the measure so far.

“It’s time we remove this outdated rule and allow tribes to pursue the same economic opportunity on their land allowed on non-tribal land," said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington), the sponsor of the bill.

The ban at issue was enacted by Congress on June 30, 1834. In order to "regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes," lawmakers at the time thought it was best to prohibit anyone from giving "spirituous liquor or wine" to an Indian person and to prohibit the manufacture of "ardent spirits" in Indian Country.

The law even authorized the use of "the military force of the United States" to destroy any alcohol distilleries on tribal lands.

Also up for its first hearing on Thursday is H.R.211, the Chugach Region Lands Study Act. Introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the bill requires the federal government to identify "not less than 500,000 acres" for a potential land exchange with Chugach Alaska Corporation, an Alaska Native regional corporation.

Prince William Sound in Alaska. Photo: Joy Grassman

A swap would help Chugach deal with the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Some of the corporation's surface holdings in Prince William Sound, where the disaster occurred, were subsequently acquired by the United States so they are currently unavailable for development or other purposes.

The bill, if enacted, would allow Chugach to secure "economically viable federal land in or outside the state of Alaska" as part of the possible swap. During the Obama administration, officials had expressed concerns about the deal.

The hearing on H.R.5317 and H.R.211 takes place at 2pm Eastern on Thursday in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. The full witness list follows:
Mr. Darryl LaCounte
Acting Deputy Bureau Director
Office of Trust Services
Bureau of Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Glenn Casamassa
Associate Deputy Chief
National Forest System
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.

The Honorable Harry Pickernell, Sr.
Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation
Oakville, WA

Mr. Gabe Kompkoff
Chief Executive Officer
Chugach Alaska Corporation
Anchorage, AK

House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Notice:
Legislative Hearing on HR 5317 and HR 211 (April 26, 2018)

Related Stories:
New bill repeals old prohibition on distilleries in Indian Country (March 19, 2018)
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